January 6, 2014

Searching the Obvious

“Do you believe in God?” she asks as we drive to work together. “Really believe in God? I am talking about the kind of belief where you can’t imagine that God would ever look away from your life—lose sight of your hurt. Do you believe He is always present? Or do you sometimes forget the promises?”

* * *

My friend Rachel calls at 5:30 on Monday morning in need of help. Her car won’t start, and she needs a ride to work. Rachel lives close to me, and we both work at the same college campus in Plano. While the drive is quite long (49 minutes and 34 seconds on a good day), it’s quite an enjoyable one. We both teach early 7:30 classes, so the phone call arrives just as I’m reaching for my car keys.

In the past four months it seems that everything has gone wrong for Rachel—at least she describes it that way. Her teaching schedule is more than challenging (she teaches five different classes with five different preparations); her mother was placed in a hospice home and suffers from advanced Alzheimer’s; her daughter is struggling with severe depression during her first year of college; Rachel is going through a divorce and expecting biopsy results after a routine checkup with her family doctor last week. And now her car won’t start.

“I thought, I work to be a good person,” she says as we travel the road toward the tollway. “I really thought: These things happen to other people. I really thought God was with me all the time. Did I do something wrong? I don’t know what to say anymore when I pray.”

Rachel speaks of her current experiences, and I listen. As I drive I am praying. Dear God, it may not be a coincidence her car did not start today. I am here. Please send the Holy Spirit to lend me words to bring peace, reassurance, and comfort to her.

As I turn onto the tollway I am relieved to see few cars on the road. This is the easy stretch of road before reaching campus. We pass one tollbooth, a second tollbooth, and suddenly, there it is: sunrise.

The car gets silent as we drive toward the sunrise, the early-morning rays like fingers reaching across the vast sky. In my heart I feel words beating, the familiar nudge of the Holy Spirit reminding me of journeys past, in my own life. I, as many others, have felt the darkness of despair. So I tell her.

“Most people I work with in chaplaincy think of Job in their times of pain and trouble. When I am in pain and troubled, I think of Noah.”

From the corner of my eye I see Rachel’s look: confused. I quickly recount the story of Noah, how a righteous man believed in what appeared unbelievable. He clung to God’s promise. He boarded the ark. He waited. Through the storm Noah’s family waited inside a vessel architecturally crafted by God. One day sunrise came.

“It’s the sunrise,” I say. “In my life it is a beautiful reminder that God is still with me. It is the start of a new day, a promise of companionship, a covenant of peace.”

The sunrise is ahead, and I feel God’s grace shining upon us. Rachel watches the sunrise in silence, then confesses that in five years of traveling this road every morning she never noticed the sunrise—until now.

“I never thought of the sunrise in that way. I don’t think God has lost sight of me, my hurt, or my pain right now,” she whispers. “I just got used to the dark.”

* * *

Next morning I drive to work alone. As I turn onto the tollway I see the beginning of the early sunrise. God is with us, always. For the next 30 minutes I drive, thanking God for His daily presence in my life, for the promises He gave that comfort and sustain me. I pray that His children never stop searching for sunrise.